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China Accuses Taiwanese of Shelling Village, Injuring 4 : Asia: Incident is first report of hostilities across the narrow strait separating the lands in more than 15 years.


BEIJING — Taiwanese military officials said today they are investigating the possibility that Taiwanese soldiers on the Taiwan-held island of Lesser Quemoy "accidentally or mistakenly" shelled a mainland Chinese village, wounding four people.

The incident was reported Monday by the official New China News Agency in Beijing. It was the first report of hostilities across the narrow strait separating Taiwan-held territory and the Chinese mainland in more than 15 years.

The Chinese government today reacted strongly to the incident, calling it "a vicious incident that sabotaged the peaceful atmosphere across the Taiwan strait."

According to the New China News Agency report, Taiwanese troops posted on Lesser Quemoy, or Xiao Jinmen, "fired at least a dozen shells" Monday morning at a suburb of Xiamen, a port in Fujian province. The news agency reported four people were wounded, two seriously.

In a telephone interview, a spokesman for the Taiwan Defense Ministry said today that military officials "are checking out the facts to see who is responsible." Without confirming or denying that the incident occurred, the spokesman said, "It is reasonable to think that it was probably a mistake or an accident."

The report of the shelling came at a sensitive time in Taiwan politics. On Dec. 3, voters in Taiwan's two largest cities, Taipei and Kaohsiung, will elect mayors from candidates that include representatives of the ruling Nationalist Party and the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

Opinion polls show the Democratic Progressive Party candidate, Chen Shui-bien, leading in Taipei, the capital and biggest city. However, any flare-up of military tensions with the mainland would be sure to benefit the Nationalists, who control the military and officially call for the overthrow of the mainland's Communist government.

The Taiwan-held island groups of Quemoy and Matsu, 150 miles to the northeast, have long been symbols of Nationalist intentions to some day reconquer the mainland they fled after their defeat by the Communists in 1949.

In 1958, Quemoy became a centerpiece in the Cold War as Communist forces fired more than 475,000 shells at the island from the mainland, killing 587 Nationalist troops and 800 civilians. In recent years, however, as economic relations between Taiwan and the mainland have developed, the tensions on the islands have greatly diminished.

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